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Our colleges and universities are treasured
national assets, but the shortcomings we
have outlined persuade us that it is time for
Americans to concentrate on what higher
education can become. The challenge before us is
nothing less than securing the promise of the future and unleashing the potential
of the American people.
To that end, we offer recommendations that aim to improve access to higher
education and make it more affordable. We seek to strengthen quality and encourage
innovation. And we want to bring much-needed transparency and accountability
to our colleges and universities. Secretary Spellings charged us to be bold. The
commission believes that America must embrace a new agenda and engage in a
new dialogue that places the needs of students and the nation at its center.
1. Every student in the nation should have the opportunity to pursue
postsecondary education. We recommend, therefore, that the U.S. commit
to an unprecedented effort to expand higher education access and success
by improving student preparation and persistence, addressing nonacademic
barriers and providing significant increases in aid to low-income students.
A high school diploma should signify that a student is ready for college or
work. States must adopt high school curricula that prepare all students for
participation in postsecondary education and should facilitate seamless
integration between high school and college. The commission believes higher
education must assume responsibility for working with the K–12 system
to ensure that teachers are adequately trained, curricula are aligned and
entrance standards are clear. The effort underway in a number of states to align
K–12 graduation standards with college and employer expectations should
be implemented in all 50 states. States should provide incentives for higher
education institutions to make long-term commitments to working actively and
collaboratively with K–12 schools and systems to help underserved students
improve college preparation and persistence.
The commission strongly encourages early assessment initiatives that
determine whether students are on track for college. A prominent chancellor
has described the 12th grade as a “vast wasteland” rather than a time to ensure
that students are prepared for college or are enrolled in college-level courses.
We endorse the expansion of early college or dual enrollment programs, as
well as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses.
The California State University System:
Increasing Access and Improving Preparation
One of the best national models of how higher-education and K–12 officials can
collaborate to help students is the Early Assessment Program (EAP) developed
by Chancellor Charles Reed and administrators at the California State University
(CSU) system in partnership with the California Department of Education and the
State Board of Education. This statewide assessment is designed to test students’
proficiency in mathematics and English and to reduce the likelihood that students
will have to take remedial classes once they enter college. The award-winning
program embeds a voluntary college-placement exam in the state testing program
required of all 11th-grade students, using the CSU’s admissions placement
standards in math and English. The “early” component of the program—testing in
the 11th grade, rather than the 12th—provides students an opportunity to make
gains in areas of weakness during their senior year.
Additionally, CSU is raising awareness of college opportunities by reaching future
students where they are—in their homes, their churches, and their communities.
Partnering with community leaders and the state’s K–12 system, administrators
are targeting low-income and minority students and putting higher education
within their reach. For the 54 percent of CSU’s 405,000 students who are racial
or ethnic minorities, initiatives such as visits by campus presidents to the largest
African-American church in Los Angeles and partnerships with Latina mothers of
elementary school children show the university system’s commitment to bringing
underrepresented populations into higher education. An informative “How to Get to
College” poster available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, and Chinese
outlines step-by-step advice on how students and parents can begin getting ready
for college as early as the sixth grade. These posters have been distributed to the
state’s middle and high schools and contain helpful information on the admission
process, applying for financial aid, and appropriate courses to take in high school
to best prepare students for collegiate-level learning. Finally, the system has a
dedicated Web site (http://www.csumentor.edu) to help students and families
navigate the college admissions and financial aid application processes.
Source: Commission Staff
The commission recommends
support for initiatives that
help states hold high schools
accountable for teaching all
students and that provide federal
support for effective and timely
intervention for those students
who are not learning at grade
level. Such initiatives would
include requirements for state
assessments in high school
to ensure that diplomas mean
students are prepared to enter
college or the workforce with the
skills to succeed. In addition, the
current 12th-grade NAEP test
should be redesigned to allow
the NAEP proficiency standard to
be used to measure college and
workforce readiness and provide
disaggregated data in state-by-state
reports. (Historically, the 12th-grade
NAEP has been limited to a national
survey with a sample size that
precludes state-by-state reporting
of assessment results. This is of
little value for either improvement or
Students must have clearer
pathways among educational
levels and institutions and we
urge colleges to remove barriers
to student mobility and promote
new learning paradigms (e.g.,
distance education, adult education,
workplace programs) to accommodate a far more diverse student cohort.
States and institutions should review and revise standards for transfer of credit
among higher education institutions, subject to rigorous standards designed to
ensure educational quality, to improve access and reduce time-to-completion.
Even though surveys show that most students and parents believe college is
essential, numerous nonacademic barriers undermine these aspirations. Many
student and parents don’t understand the steps needed to prepare for college
and the system fails to address this information gap. The commission calls
on businesses to partner with schools and colleges to provide resources for
early and ongoing college awareness activities, academic support, and college
planning and financial aid application assistance. Such efforts should include
developing students’ and parents’ knowledge of the economic and social
benefits of college through better information, use of role models and extensive
2. To address the escalating cost of a college education and the fiscal
realities affecting government’s ability to finance higher education in the
long run, we recommend that the entire student financial aid system be
restructured and new incentives put in place to improve the measurement
and management of costs and institutional productivity.
Public providers of student financial aid should commit to meeting the needs
of students from low-income families.
The federal government, states, and institutions should significantly increase
need-based student aid. To accomplish this, the present student financial aid
system should be replaced with a strategically oriented, results-driven system
built on the principles of (i) increased access, or enrollment in, college by those
students who would not otherwise be likely to attend, including nontraditional
students; (ii) increased retention, or graduation by, students who might not have
been able to complete college due to the cost, (iii) decreased debt burden, and
(iv) eliminating structural incentives for tuition inflation.
Any new federal financial aid system should aim to replace the current federal
aid form (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA) with a
much shorter and simpler application form. The application process should be
substantially streamlined by analyzing student need through a simple criterion
such as family income. Students should have information about financial aid
eligibility (such as need or ability to pay) sooner and with early estimates of
likely aid available as soon as the eighth grade.
The financial-aid needs of transfer students, including those who transfer from
two-year to four-year institutions, and part-time students should be attended to
as part of the restructuring we recommend.
Federal grant programs should be consolidated to increase the purchasing
power of the Pell Grant. Whatever restructuring of federal financial aid takes
place, the Pell Grant will remain the core need-based program. A specific
benchmark should be established to increase the purchasing power of the
average Pell Grant to a level of 70 percent (from 48 percent in 2004–05) of
the average in-state tuition at public, four-year institutions over a period of
five years. However, even with significant additional federal investment, there
is little chance of restoring the Pell’s purchasing power if tuition increases
absorb most or all of the new money. This effort requires not only federal
investment but also strategies by which colleges and universities contain
increases in tuition and fees.
Additionally, administrative and regulatory costs of federal aid programs should
be streamlined through a comprehensive review of financial aid regulations.
Policymakers and higher education leaders should develop, at the
institutional level, new and innovative means to control costs, improve
productivity, and increase the supply of higher education.
Higher education governing and coordinating boards, entrusted with the
responsibility to ensure both internal and external accountability, should
work with colleges to improve information about costs as well as prices for
consumers, policymakers and institutional leaders.
Higher education institutions should improve institutional cost management
through the development of new performance benchmarks designed to
measure and improve productivity and efficiency. Also, better measures of
costs, beyond those designed for accounting purposes, should be provided to
enable consumers and policymakers to see institutional results in the areas
of academic quality, productivity and efficiency. An important benchmark, for
example, would be that the growth in college tuition not exceed the growth
in median family income over a five-year period. At the same time, the
commission opposes the imposition of price controls.
Colleges should help lower per-student educational costs by reducing
barriers for transfer students. This step would be likely to lower costs to the
overall postsecondary system by eliminating a great deal of redundancy
within the system.
The commission urges states to provide financial incentives to institutions that
show they are fostering access, increasing productivity and cutting costs while
maintaining or enhancing educational quality. States can drive improvements in
educational learning productivity by encouraging both traditional and electronic
delivery of college courses in high school.
Federal and state policymakers should support the dissemination of
technological advances in teaching that lower costs on a quality-adjusted
Institutions that reduce instructional costs generally on a quality-
adjusted basis should be financially rewarded. States should provide similar
incentive payments to institutions that significantly reduce academic attrition
and increase graduation rates within the traditional period for the degree (e.g.,
four years for a bachelor’s degree).
Federal and state policymakers and accrediting organizations should work
to eliminate regulatory and accreditation barriers to new models in higher
education that will increase supply and drive costs down. To address these
barriers, federal and state policymakers should:
Eliminate federal financial aid regulations that differentiate
between traditional semesters and nonstandard terms or, at a
minimum, rewrite those regulations to provide the same benefits
to nontraditional programs as to traditional semester programs.
Require accreditation agencies to act in a more timely manner
to accredit new institutions and new programs at existing
institutions, while focusing on results and quality rather than
dictating, for example, process, inputs, and governance, which
perpetuates current models and impedes innovation.
Federal and state policymakers should relieve the regulatory burden
on colleges and universities by undertaking a review of the hundreds of
regulations with which institutions must comply and recommend how they
might be streamlined or eliminated. Additionally, nearly every federal agency
is involved in regulating some aspect of higher education and each ought to
create a compliance calendar to assist colleges and universities with identifying
the myriad regulations and meeting their requirements.
Finally, the federal government should work closely and cooperatively with
institutions and higher education associations to develop compliance materials
when new regulations are issued and to develop a system for notifying
institutions when they are covered by a new law or regulation.
3. To meet the challenges of the 21st century, higher education must change
from a system primarily based on reputation to one based on performance.
We urge the creation of a robust culture of accountability and transparency
throughout higher education. Every
one of our goals, from improving
access and affordability to enhancing
quality and innovation, will be more
easily achieved if higher education
institutions embrace and implement
serious accountability measures.
We recommend the creation of
a consumer-friendly information
database on higher education with
useful, reliable information on
institutions, coupled with a search
engine to enable students, parents,
policymakers and others to weigh
and rank comparative institutional
The Department of Education
should collect data and provide
information in a common format so
that interested parties can create
a searchable, consumer-friendly
database that provides access
Quality and Innovation Through
From 1999 to 2004, Carol Twigg and the National Center for Academic
Transformation at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute worked with 30 colleges
and universities to enhance quality of instruction, improve student learning,
and reduce costs through the use of technology and innovative pedagogy. The
participating institutions, which included Carnegie Mellon University, Northern
Arizona University, and Tallahassee Community College, redesigned instructional
approaches to improve some of their large, introductory courses. Instead of
offering traditional lecture formats, instructors used active learning strategies
to engage students in course material. These redesigned courses provided
online access to Web-based tutorials, on-demand feedback, and support from
student peer mentors. The use of technology reduced course preparation time for
instructors and lowered instructional costs per student.
The results speak for themselves: more learning at a lower cost to the university.
Institutions reported an average of 37 percent reduced cost and an increase in
student engagement and learning. For example, scores in a redesigned biology
course at the University of Massachusetts increased by 20 percent, while the cost
to the university per student dropped by nearly 40 percent. For more information,
Source: Commission Staff
to institutional performance and aggregate student outcomes in a secure
and flexible format. The strategy for the collection and use of data should be
designed to recognize the complexity of higher education, have the capacity
to accommodate diverse consumer preferences through standard and
customizable searches, and make it easy to obtain comparative information
including cost, price, admissions data, college completion rates and, eventually,
Third-party organizations should be encouraged and enabled to publish
independent, objective information using data from such a database. In
addition, comparative studies such as, for example, the National Center for
Public Policy and Higher Education’s biennial Measuring Up report, which
gauges how successful state systems are at preparation, participation,
affordability, completion and learning, should be published and disseminated by
the Department as part of this information system.
In addition to this new consumer-oriented database, more and better
information on the quality and cost of higher education is needed by
policymakers, researchers and the general public.
The secretary of education should require the National Center for Education
Statistics to prepare timely annual public reports on college revenues and
expenditures, including analysis of the major changes from year to year, at
the sector and state level. Unlike the data currently available, institutional
comparisons should be consumer-friendly and not require a sophisticated
understanding of higher education finance.
The commission supports the development of a privacy-protected higher
education information system that collects, analyzes and uses student-level
data as a vital tool for accountability, policy-making, and consumer choice. A
privacy-protected system would not include individually identifiable information
such as student names or Social Security numbers at the federal level. Such a
system would allow policymakers and consumers to evaluate the performance
of institutions by determining the success of each institution’s students without
knowing the identities of those students. It is essential for policymakers and
consumers to have access to a comprehensive higher education information
system in order to make informed choices about how well colleges and
universities are serving their students, through accurate measures of individual
institutions’ retention and graduation rates, net tuition price for different categories
of students, and other important information. Right now, policymakers, scholarly
researchers, and members of the public lack basic information on institutional
performance and labor market outcomes for postsecondary institutions. This is
particularly true for measuring outcomes from the work of those institutions that
serve the growing proportion of nontraditional students who do not begin and
finish their higher education at the same institution within a set period of time.
Examples of Student Learning Assessments
The Collegiate Learning Assessment
Among the most comprehensive national efforts to measure how much students actually learn at different campuses, the
Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) promotes a culture of evidence-based assessment in higher education. Since 2002,
134 colleges and universities have used the exam, which evaluates students’ critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and
written communication using performance tasks and writing prompts rather than multiple choice questions. Administered to
freshmen and seniors, the CLA allows for comparability to national norms and measurement of value added between the
freshman and senior years. Additionally, because the CLA’s unit of analysis is the institution and not the student, results are
aggregated and allow for inter-institutional comparisons that show how each institution contributes to learning. For more
information, visit www.cae.org/cla.
The National Survey of Student Engagement and the Community College Survey of Student
Administered by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research, the National Survey of Student Engagement
(NSSE) and its community college counterpart, the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), survey
hundreds of institutions annually about student participation and engagement in programs designed to improve their learning
and development. The measures of student engagement - the time and effort students put into educational activities in and
out of the classroom, from meeting with professors to reading books that weren’t assigned in class - serve as a proxy for
the value and quality of their undergraduate experience. NSSE and CCSSE provide colleges and universities with readily
usable data to improve that experience and create benchmarks against which similar institutions can compare themselves.
With surveys from several million students already compiled, these instruments provide a comprehensive picture of the
undergraduate student experience at four-year and two-year institutions. Results from NSSE and CCSSE, which are
publicly reported, can provide institutions and external stakeholders data for improving institutional performance, setting
accountability standards, and strategic planning. For more information, visit http://nsse.iub.edu.
The National Forum on College-Level Learning
The National Forum on College-Level Learning has been called “the first attempt to measure what the college educated
know and can do across states.” Piloted in 2002 across Illinois, Kentucky, Nevada, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, the
study collected data on student learning using multiple assessment instruments already in use or widely available such as
the National Adult Literacy Survey, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (for four-year colleges) or WorkKeys (for two-year
colleges), and graduate admissions exams. Results from these assessments provide states comparable information
on how their colleges and universities contribute to student learning and identify challenges such as performance gaps
and inconsistent teacher preparation. Comparable assessment also allows states to identify best practices, providing
information useful in creating policy and programs that will improve the states’ intellectual capital. For more information,
Source: Commission Staff
The philanthropic community and other third-party organizations are urged
to invest in the research and development of instruments measuring the
intersection of institutional resources, student characteristics, and educational
value-added. Tools should be developed that aggregate data at the state level
and that also can be used for institutional benchmarking.
Postsecondary education institutions should measure and report meaningful
student learning outcomes.
Higher education institutions should measure student learning using quality-
assessment data from instruments such as, for example, the Collegiate
Learning Assessment, which measures the growth of student learning taking
place in colleges, and the Measure of Academic Proficiency and Progress,
which is designed to assess general education outcomes for undergraduates in
order to improve the quality of instruction and learning.
The federal government should provide incentives for states, higher education
associations, university systems, and institutions to develop interoperable
outcomes-focused accountability systems designed to be accessible and useful
for students, policymakers, and the public, as well as for internal management
and institutional improvement.
Faculty must be at the forefront of defining educational objectives for students
and developing meaningful, evidence-based measures of their progress toward
The results of student learning assessments, including value-added
measurements that indicate how students’ skills have improved over time,
should be made available to students and reported in the aggregate publicly.
Higher education institutions should make aggregate summary results of all
postsecondary learning measures, e.g., test scores, certification and
licensure attainment, time to degree, graduation rates, and other relevant
measures, publicly available in a consumer-friendly form as a condition of
The collection of data from public institutions allowing meaningful interstate
comparison of student learning should be encouraged and implemented in
all states. By using assessments of adult literacy, licensure, graduate and
professional school exams, and specially administered tests of general
intellectual skills, state policymakers can make valid interstate comparisons
of student learning and identify shortcomings as well as best practices. The
federal government should provide financial support for this initiative.
The National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), should be administered by
U.S. Department of Education at five- instead of ten-year intervals. The survey
sample should be of sufficient size to yield state-by-state as well as national
results. The NAAL should also survey a sample of graduating students at two
and four-year colleges and universities and provide state reports.
Accreditation agencies should make performance outcomes, including completion
rates and student learning, the core of their assessment as a priority over
inputs or processes. A framework that aligns and expands existing accreditation
standards should be established to (i) allow comparisons among institutions
regarding learning outcomes and other performance measures, (ii) encourage
innovation and continuous improvement, and (iii) require institutions and
programs to move toward world-class quality relative to specific missions and
report measurable progress in relationship to their national and international
peers. In addition, this framework should require that the accreditation process
be more open and accessible by making the findings of final reviews easily
accessible to the public and increasing public and private sector representation in
the governance of accrediting organizations and on review teams. Accreditation,
once primarily a private relationship between an agency and an institution, now
has such important public policy implications that accreditors must continue and
speed up their efforts toward transparency as this affects public ends.
4. With too few exceptions, higher education has yet to address the
fundamental issues of how academic programs and institutions must be
transformed to serve the changing needs of a knowledge economy. We
recommend that America’s colleges and universities embrace a culture
of continuous innovation and quality improvement by developing new
pedagogies, curricula, and technologies to improve learning, particularly in
the area of science and mathematical literacy.
The Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) should
be revitalized and its funding increased. Its original mission of promoting
improvement and innovation in higher education needs to be reenergized to
sustain and enhance innovation in postsecondary education. The commission
recommends that FIPSE prioritize, disseminate, and promote best practices
in innovative teaching and learning models as well as the application of
high-quality learning-related research in such rapidly growing areas as
neuroscience, cognitive science and organizational sciences.
An additional purpose of revitalizing FIPSE would be to encourage broad
federal support of innovation in higher education from multiple agencies
(Departments of Agriculture, Education, Energy, Labor, Defense, and
Commerce; the National Science Foundation; the National Institutes of Health;
and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in order to align and
coordinate federal investment of innovation in higher education.
Institutions should harness the power of information technology by sharing
educational resources among institutions, and use distance learning to meet the
educational needs of rural students and adult learners, and to enhance workforce
development. Effective use of information technology can improve student
learning, reduce instructional costs, and meet critical workforce needs. We urge
states and institutions to establish course redesign programs using technology-
based, learner-centered principles drawing upon the innovative work already
being done by organizations such
as the National Center for Academic
Transformation. Additionally, we
urge institutions to explore emerging
interdisciplinary fields such as
services sciences, management and
engineering and to implement new
models of curriculum development
The commission encourages
the creation of incentives to
promote the development of
collaborative tools and capabilities
at universities and colleges
across the United States, enabling
access, interaction, and sharing
of educational materials from
a variety of institutions, disciplines, and educational perspectives. Both
commercial development and new collaborative paradigms such as open
source, open content, and open learning will be important in building the next
generation learning environments for the knowledge economy.
5. America must ensure that our citizens have access to high quality and
affordable educational, learning, and training opportunities throughout their
lives. We recommend the development of a national strategy for lifelong
learning that helps all citizens understand the importance of preparing for
and participating in higher education throughout their lives.
The commission encourages institutions to expand their reach to adults through
technology such as distance learning, workplace learning, and alternative
The secretary of education, in partnership with states and other federal
agencies, should develop a national strategy that would result in better
and more flexible learning opportunities, especially for adult learners. The
comprehensive plan should include better integration of policy, funding and
accountability between postsecondary education, adult education, vocational
education, and workforce development and training programs. Emphasis
should be placed on innovation incentives, development of tailored, new
delivery mechanisms, ability to transfer credits among institutions easily
(subject to rigorous standards designed to ensure educational quality), and the
ability to acquire credits linked to skill certifications that could lead to a degree.
The plan should include specific recommendations for legislative and regulatory
changes needed to create an efficient, transparent and cost-effective system
needed to enhance student mobility and meet U.S. workforce needs.
Innovation in Curriculum Development and
Salt Lake City-based Neumont University is educating the most sought-after
software developers in the world. Neumont’s curriculum is project-based and
focuses on the skills most valued by today’s employers. The institution’s unique
instructional approach is built on a project-based, experiential foundation that
incorporates the tools and technologies important to the industry. Students learn
both the theory of computer science and then apply that theory in real-world
projects, initially mentored by faculty, and ultimately mentored by other senior
students in peer-to-peer relationships. Neumont offers an accelerated program; in
about 28 months graduates can earn a Bachelor of Science in computer science
degree; IBM, .NET and other leading industry certifications; and a digital portfolio
of projects. For more information, visit www.neumont.edu.
Source: Commission Staff
6. The United States must ensure the capacity of its universities to achieve
global leadership in key strategic areas such as science, engineering, medicine,
and other knowledge-intensive professions. We recommend increased federal
investment in areas critical to our nation’s global competitiveness and a
renewed commitment to attract the best and brightest minds from across the
nation and around the world to lead the next wave of American innovation.
The commission supports increasing federal and state investment in education
and research in critical areas such as the STEM fields, teaching, nursing,
biomedicine, and other professions along the lines recommended by President
George W. Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative; Rising Above the
Gathering Storm, published by the National Academies’ Committee on Science,
Engineering, and Public Policy; and the National Innovation Initiative by the
Council on Competitiveness.
The administration should encourage more research collaboration, multi-
disciplinary research and curricula, including those related to the growing
services economy, through existing programs at the Department of Education,
the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Department
of Agriculture, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science.
The need to produce a globally literate citizenry is critical to the nation's continued
success in the global economy. The federal government has recently embarked
on an initiative to dramatically increase the number of Americans learning critically
needed foreign languages from K–16 and into the workforce. Higher education,
too, must put greater emphasis on international education, including foreign
language instruction and study abroad, in order to ensure that graduates have the
skills necessary to function effectively in the global workforce.
In addition to these competitiveness trends, the racial and ethnic diversity of
our citizens is also changing. The U.S. must respond with public policies that
encourage and channel capable students from diverse populations into the
health care pipeline to become doctors, nurses, dentists, public health officers
and related health professionals and similarly into the pipelines of other STEM
professions. Two-year and four-year colleges should expand partnerships that
encourage the progression of low-income and minority students through STEM
fields, teaching, nursing, biomedicine, and other knowledge-intensive fields.
In an effort to retain the best and brightest students and professionals from
around the world, the federal government must address immigration policies
specifically aimed at international students. The commission recommends that
these international students who graduate with an advanced STEM degree
from a U.S. college or university should have an expedited path to an employer-
sponsored green card and also be exempted from the numerical cap for green
cards. The commission also recommends eliminating the requirement that in
order to receive a student visa, all students must prove that they have no intent
to remain in the United States after graduating. After all, talented graduates with
sought-after advanced training represent precisely the kind of intellectual capital
our nation needs.
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